There's nothing to love about Valentine's cards

February 13, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

I am standing in a Rite Aid a couple of days ago and the store is decked out the way it usually is this time of year: the cutesy teddy bears with red ribbons and "I Luv You!" inscribed on their furry little guts, the Whitman Samplers the size of satellite dishes, the vast section of ridiculously overpriced Valentine's Day greeting cards.

The greeting cards are why I'm here.

Oh, I hate greeting cards.

I hate Valentine's Day greeting cards most of all.

Valentine's Day greeting cards are the biggest racket going, a multibillion-dollar business fueled by two deep character flaws in the American public: a taste for insipid prose come Feb. 14 and a willingness to pay big for it.

But, look, this is research we're doing here at Rite Aid. So I pick a card at random from the Wife Humorous row.

It's funny, in all the years of looking in the Wife Humorous row, I've never actually come upon a humorous card.

But maybe it's like playing the lottery.

Maybe you wait and wait and wait for your ship to come in, and then one night you turn on the 11 o'clock news and they announce the winning numbers and you look at your ticket and shriek: "I won!"

Then you quit your job and move into a gated community and stop talking to everyone you used to know, including your mother, and your life goes all to hell.

So I pick up this greeting card to see if I struck humor gold.

On the front it says, "A Valentine's Day Gift for My Wife" and there is a cartoon dog saying: "Sorry we can't get away to some remote tropical island ... "

Now you open the card and it shows the dog sort of leering - if dogs can even leer - and holding a pina colada next to a Do Not Disturb sign as he says: "But maybe we can make a little paradise of our own."

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

OK, now ask yourself this: What is a fair price for this bit of sterling wit?

A buck?

Two bucks? Two-fifty?

Right. Keep dreaming, cheapskate.

Because the price on the back of the card is $4.99.

Think about that: five bucks!

Five bucks for a stupid little card that isn't even funny or clever.

A card that provokes absolutely no emotion, except maybe amazement that anyone would actually spend five bucks on it.

And lingering resentment, I'm guessing, from the poor wife who receives it.

But this is what we have now in greeting cards: a vast industry that churns out vapid aphorisms and corny jokes and sticks them on paper, then charges an arm and a leg for them.

And why exactly are greeting cards so expensive these days?

Is the writing any better than it was when they cost $1, or $1.75?

Are they using a better grade of pulp product?

Is the artwork any better?

(That cartoon dog sure isn't going to win any prizes, I can tell you that. You'll never see that baby hanging in a museum.)

And yet greeting cards still fly out of the stores, especially this week, when the pressure is on to "show you care" and "express your love" to "that special someone" and blah, blah, blah.

In fact, I read that Valentine's Day is the second most-popular holiday for card-giving, the first being Christmas.

All I can say is, as I'm in Rite Aid, they're stacked two deep around the Valentine's Day cards, snatching them up in their hot little hands and studying them as if they held the key to fulfillment and enlightenment.

OK, now maybe you're thinking I'm being too critical of these cards.

Maybe you're thinking: Oh, he probably just read one or two and missed the really good ones.

No, I have a lot of free time that day. Things are slow, real slow, so I actually go through many of the cards.

Trust me, they're all pretty lame.

In fact, as a special treat, let me describe the final card I pick up from the Wife Humorous section.

This one says, "Happy Valentine's Day to My Wife" on the top and features a head shot of a smiling man saying: "My love for you keeps growing ... "

You open the card. And now you see the man with his gut proudly sticking out, surrounded by junk food like potato chips, pizza and hot dogs as he crows: "Sorta like my stomach."

Then again, this one is a steal at only $3.99.

I might stop by today and see if there are any left.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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